Rome: Day 1

Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers the flight and our first day in Rome.

Before our trip to Italy, I decided to buy a new camera bag. I don’t like shoulder bags and backpacks are a hassle since every time you want to take a picture you have to take the backpack off, get the camera out and do the reverse after taking the shot. Therefore, I decided that a sling pack would be best. After looking at a few, I liked the Lowepro SlingShot 100AW. During our trip, I carried it on my back most of the time, but could easily slide it to the front to get the camera out or when it was too crowded and I was afraid of pickpockets. It was very comfortable on the back and reasonably comfortable on the front for short periods of time.

Lowepro SlingShot 100 AW

Usually when we need to travel by air, we park our car at the MARTA North Springs station and take the train to Hartsfield Jackson airport. Our flight to Rome was at 4:45pm. There was a time when I would always grab the window seat but now Michelle does that.

While domestic flights don’t have any food, some international flights have too much food. We had dinner. Then a few hours later, the flight attendants almost woke everyone up for some snacks and finally breakfast on Italian time.

We landed in Rome more than 9 hours later at 8:15am local time. Immigration was a breeze. I think the officer didn’t say one word, just stamped our passports. We collected our bags and got to the train station to take the Leonardo Express to Termini, the main train station in the city.

From Termini, we walked the 15 minutes to our hotel. Their check-in time was at 1:00pm, several hours away. So we left our bags there and decided to wander around the city.

We took the metro to Spagna and went to the Spanish Steps. We walked up the steps to the church, Trinità dei Monti and then on to Trevi Fountain which was surrounded by a couple of million tourists. Michelle tossed a few coins into the fountain and we got some gelato nearby at il Gelato di San Crispino.

By this time, Michelle had fallen asleep in her stroller, so we decided to see Galleria Doria Pamphilj, owned by a princely family. It was not fun to carry Michelle in the stroller up and down the steps, but the gallery had lots of nice paintings. I was a nice guy and didn’t take any photographs as they didn’t allow any.

Then we went to the 17th century Jesuit church, Sant’Ignazio. I must confess that I love churches. The architecture, the paintings and sculptures, everything fascinates me about these historic churches. That’s why a lot of the photographs in the map below are of this church.

With Michelle sleeping, we walked all the way back to the hotel. On the way we saw Piazza Venezia and the Vittorio Emanuele II monument there. Vittorio Emanuele was the first king when Italy was unified in the 19th century.

Michelle woke up near the end because it was hot. Fortunately, Rome has a lot of public drinking water fountains and most of them were marked on my GPS maps.

We checked in at the hotel and washed up. After some rest, we decided to go out for dinner. Of course, we forgot that nobody eats dinner at 6:30pm in Italy. So we ended up wandering around Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. When we went to Trattoria Monti, they were all booked up for the night. We made reservations for dinner the next night and decided to live it up at Agata e Romeo. The food was great and it cost more than €200 for two people (without drinks).

Photographs shown on a map of Rome follow.

Continue reading “Rome: Day 1”

Christmas Photos

Some photographs from Christmas lights and events around Georgia.

In keeping with the title of the blog, here are some photographs from last Christmas.

Let’s start with Atlanta: Midtown (Atlantic Station) and Buckhead (Pink Pig train at Lenox).

Atlantic Station train
Atlantic Station Christmas tree
Lenox Pink Pig ride
 

And some photos from the Lake Lanier Islands Magical Nights of Lights.

Nativity play
 

The day we went to Stone Mountain, the weather wasn’t very nice. Their laser light show could not be seen because of fog.

Stone Mountain 1
Stone Mountain 2
 

The Christmas lights at Callaway Gardens.

 

iPhone 3G

I bought an iPhone 3G a few months ago and have been in love with it.

When the original iPhone came out in 2007, I really wanted one but I decided to wait for a while because I had my Treo 650 and had a cell service contract with AT&T as well.

I am glad I waited because I got the iPhone 3G last year and fell in love with it. It really is a revolutionary phone. Even Michelle loves it and found the touchscreen interface very intuitive. She loves to watch YouTube videos, take pictures (she has even figured out how to take screenshots), play games (Touch Hockey is her favorite), draw (Doodle Kids is the app she uses), and look at Google Maps.

There are a couple of things I do miss:

  • Lack of copy and paste is the most annoying and I hope Apple adds it as soon as possible.
  • Push notification support for applications and Gmail.

I have setup the iPhone to use my wireless network at home and also the AT&T wifi network at Starbucks and McDonald’s, etc. However, 3G data speeds are also very good.

iPhone wifi speediPhone 3G speediPhone EDGE speed

Download (kbps) Upload (kbps) Latency (ms)
Wifi 1863 242 86
3G 1201 249 169
EDGE 96 36 887

In accessories, I bought a Jawbone 2 bluetooth headset which reduces noise quite a lot better than any headset I have seen.

Since I use the iPhone a lot, I have to charge it every night regularly. The iPhone battery cannot be changed by the consumer, so once the battery’s gone through enough cycles, I’ll have to get Apple to install a new battery.

The applications I use the most are the following:

iPhone Apps 1iPhone Apps 2iPhone Apps 3iPhone Apps 4iPhone Apps 5iPhone Apps 6iPhone Apps 7iPhone Apps 8

I recently switched my ZackVision email accounts from being hosted by my webhost to Gmail using Google Apps. It should not change anything for those sending me emails, but I like the Gmail interface and their spam filter is also much better than the one I was using at my webhost. One problem with the email switch was transferring the tens of thousands of emails I had in my different mailboxes. Google has an Email Uploader for the purpose but it was not transferring a significant number of my emails. So I just had to set up IMAP accounts in Mozilla Thunderbird for my old and new (gmail) accounts and move the emails folder by folder. This took some time.

In addition to email, Google Apps also provides me with my own calendar and documents. So I uploaded all my Outlook contacts to Gmail and decided to switch completely away from Outlook. Instead of syncing my contacts and calendar between Outlook and iPhone via iTunes, now I am using “Google Mobile Sync”http://www.google.com/mobile/apple/sync.html to sync over the air between my iPhone and my Google calendars and contacts at my own domain. So the only real thing I need the iTunes sync for is podcast subscriptions.

And now I am salivating over the Kindle 2.

Khudkushistan

While late, here’s the account of our trip to Pakistan in October last year.

Khudkushistan, Land of Suicide Bombings, formerly known as Pakistan, Land of the Pure, is where our parents live. Thus we have to visit once in a while despite these statistics from September 2008.

Suicide attacks have killed almost 1,200 Pakistanis since July last year, most of them civilians, according to military statistics released Monday that highlight the ferocity of the militant threat facing the country.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting between Pakistani troops and insurgents on the Afghan border has sent some 20,000 Pakistanis fleeing into Afghanistan, the United Nations reported.

Figures released at a military briefing in Islamabad showed 88 suicide attacks have taken place across Pakistan since the Red Mosque siege, killing 1,188 people.

Of that figure, 847 were civilians, while the rest were troops and police. More than 3,000 were listed as injured.

So we bought tickets in mid-August for a trip in October. A week later, more than 70 people were killed in twin suicide bombings in Wah Cantt, the city where my in-laws live and thus was one of our destinations.

And just two weeks before our visit, there was a suicide bombing in our other destination, Islamabad, when Marriott Hotel was destroyed and more than 40 people killed.

So we were a bit apprehensive about our visit. I mentioned this to a few people who live in Pakistan. They seemed nonchalant and argued that they lived there and the risk was in any case minimal. I agreed that the risk was low but while they lived there, I did not and thus I was worried about visiting a war zone.

On October 3, we flew to Islamabad via Kuwait. At the Atlanta airport, it was difficult to get the ticket agent to understand that Kuwait was a city and a country and was not Iraq. She kept saying Iraq and I got so angry that Amber had to intervene. Our flight was uneventful except that Kuwait Airways food sucked and no one cares about No Smoking signs at Kuwait Airport. Also, Michelle grabbed my usual window seat and had a lot of fun watching the plane take off, fly and land.

When we reached Islamabad, we realized that my bag was lost. So we had to wait until all baggage had arrived at baggage claim and then file a missing baggage complaint. So the first order of business was to buy a toothbrush and some clothes for me. Fortunately, we got the bag the next day.

While we were in Islamabad, there was a suicide bombing at the Islamabad Police HQ, which just goes to show how appropriate the name I have coined, Khudkushistan, is.

There was a lot of road construction going on in Islamabad and Wah area. Some roads have also been widened since the last time we were there. Also, this was the first time I drove on the limited-access toll highway. After I saw the condition of the GT Road, I decided to use the M-1 motorway(Pakistan) to drive between Islamabad and Wah Cantt. Interestingly, most of the vehicles on the motorway drove nowhere near the 120km/hr (75mph) speed limit and I had a lot of fun.

One new thing on the roads of Islamabad and Wah Cantt were the blockades by the police. There are usually two or three fences or other barriers right after each other so that the vehicles have to slow down completely and zig zag through them. Some of these blockades were quite dangerous with sharp metal pointing towards you probably to dissuade anyone from running through the blockade.

We also noticed that signs of any military related buildings that used to there were nowhere to be seen now. For example, the Pakistan Military Academy near Abbottabad has no signs on the main road pointing to its location. Similarly, the Naval Sailing Club at Rawal Lake in Islamabad is difficult to find without any signs.

Unlike our last visit, I didn’t have huge allergy issues and stayed mostly healthy during our trip. Michelle had a lot of fun with her grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins.

Here are some random photographs from our trip.

Ayub Market, Islamabad
Ayub Market, Islamabad
Karachi Company, Islamabad
View of Islamabad
From Pir Sohawa
From Daman e Koh
A mosque
Faisal Mosque
Sunset at Rawal Lake
Gun in Wah Cantt
Weapon worship in Wah Cantt
GT Road, Taxila
Vase shops, Taxila
Intersection closed, Islamabad
 

On our way back, it took me a long time to go through immigration in New York City and we barely made the flight to Atlanta. Thus we waited at baggage claim at the Atlanta airport for a long time without any bags. All our bags were delivered to our home the next day.

Pine Mountain, GA

We went to Pine Mountain, GA for the Independence Day weekend. There are some photos from Callaway Gardens and the Wild Animal Safari there.

For the Fourth of July weekend, we went to Pine Mountain, GA with some friends.

The kids loved the Wild Animal Safari there.

deer
zebras
zebra
deer
cow
camel
buffalo
rhea
zony
rhinoceros
antlers
peacock
 

We wanted to go to Callaway Gardens for the July 4 fireworks, but there was a huge rainstorm. So we visited Callaway Gardens the next day.

butterfly
butterfly
butterfly
butterfly
flower
lake
duck
turtle
flower
leaf
plant
bananas
leaves
colorful plants
colorful leaf
 

Lake Lanier Islands Lights

As is usual, I am finally posting some photographs from the Christmas holidays now.

Lake Lanier Islands Resort has magical night of lights after Thanksgiving through the end of the year. Here are some photographs from there in December 2007.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
 

We have been to the Georgia Aquarium quite a few times.

Gil
Jelly fish
 

Here are some from the Centennial Olympic Park.

Statue
Us in front of Christmas tree
View of downtown
View of downtown
View of downtown
At park
 

Atlanta Zoo

We visited the Atlanta Zoo recently. Here are some photographs from that visit.

Some time ago, we went to Atlanta Zoo. Michelle was so excited to be there. She was running from one animal enclosure to the next, trying to see all the animals. It was a great trip. I myself spent a lot of time on the gorillas and took lots of photos.

Flamingos
Warthog
Elephant
Rhinoceros and Zebras
Zebra
Giraffe
Lion
Unknown
Unknown
Elephant
Gorilla
Gorilla
Gorilla
Gorilla
Gorilla
Orangutan
Snake
Gila Monster
Panda
 

I am hoping next time I’ll have the 70-300mm lens for closeups.

Nikon D80

I bought a digital SLR, Nikon D80 and love it.

As I mentioned earlier, I had been looking for a digital SLR camera. And look here it is:

Nikon D80 Box
Nikon D80
Nikon D80
Nikon D80 and accessories
Nikon D80 and Sony DSC-F707
 

My old camera, Sony Cybershot DSC-F707, has given good results for more than 5 years. But I was outgrowing it and there was also the delay in taking a shot after pressing the button which resulted in missed photos of the always-on-the-move 3 year old.

I bought Nikon D80 with the 18-135mm lens from B&H.

I liked the extra features in the D80 as compared to the entry level DSLRs (Nikon D40x and Canon Rebel XTi). And when one is buying an SLR, the lenses are more important than the camera body. Looking at the Nikon and Canon lenses, it seemed to me that Nikon has better consumer lenses. Canon has good pro lenses but I don’t think I can afford those.

I thought about the different lenses to buy and then chose the 18-135mm. With the 1.5x factor due to the smaller sensor, this lens is equivalent to a 27-205mm lens on a 35mm camera. This lens has decent performance and has enough zoom capability that most of the time I can make do with just one lens and don’t have to switch lenses.

In the near future, I plan to buy the following in order of priority:

  1. Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash
  2. Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens which would be a perfect, fast portrait lens
  3. Nikon 70-300mm VR Zoom Nikkor Lens for nature photography

I have been very pleased with the results of the D80.

Inman Park Festival

Inman Park is an old neighborhood of Atlanta, east of downtown, where a festival is held in late April. Here is my belated photography of that event.

During the last week of April, there is the Inman Park Festival in Atlanta. Inman Park is an old neighborhood of Atlanta.

We went to the festival this year which the Kid enjoyed very much. I have been lazy in uploading my photographs, but here they are, only 7 months late.

Festival 1
Festival 2
Festival 3
Festival 4
Festival 5
Festival 6
Festival 7
Festival 8
Festival 9
Festival 10
Festival 11
Festival 12
Festival 13
Festival 14
Festival 15
Festival 16
Festival 17
Festival 18
 

Las Vegas

Last Christmas, we visited Las Vegas after eight years. With a kid in tow, there was no gambling or shows, but we had a lot of outdoor fun.

Recently, we visited Las Vegas. OK, so it wasn’t recently, it was last Christmas.

We had fun there. With a 2 year old who was fascinated with the colors and sounds of the slot machines, it was difficult to stay in casinos. Add the fact that neither of us is into any gambling. So we went to lots of places in and around Las Vegas.

Here are a few photographs from Madame Tussaud’s there.

At Madame Tussaud's
At Madame Tussaud's
At Madame Tussaud's
 

We walked up and down the Strip quite a few times. Here are the photos of the strip.

Continue reading “Las Vegas”